My sincere thanks to all those who attended or supported the brunch this past Sunday commemorating my tenth year on the City Council. Catie and I were honored that more than 400 friends were able to join us for the event. In case you are interested, following is a copy of the remarks I delivered, minus a lengthy series of introductions at the beginning.
Remarks of Noam Bramson
Commemorating A Decade of Service
March 13, 2005
Catie and I both are deeply grateful for the friendship and support of everyone here today. We feel privileged to share a community with so many people whom we admire, and we thank you for your generosity.
And we’re so glad to have had this opportunity to introduce you to our son, Jeremy, who’s about fifteen months old now, a little cranky today, but generally a lot of fun. We appreciate the good wishes from many of you when Jeremy was born and in the days since.
Ten years. Hard to believe.
Some of you will remember what seemed like an impossibly uphill campaign for City Council back in 1995. Others, I have come to know in the time since. However and whenever we met, we share today a common faith in public service, and a common determination to use some portion of our own lives to improve the lives of those around us.
Sometimes it’s difficult. One of the things I have learned in these ten years is patience. Progress in government comes very slowly. At certain moments, it seems almost as though we are running in place. And then there are other moments, like this one, when we can pause, look back across a longer stretch of time and say, my goodness, see how far we’ve come.
To a downtown that had been a symbol of disappointment and diminished expectations, we have brought almost a billion dollars in housing, entertainment, retail. And with it, a new spirit of promise and possibility. Gone are the days when development depended upon government incentive. Today, it is sustained instead by confidence in our city and its future.
On a long-abandoned waterfront, we have taken the first steps to reclaim land for public use and renew the link between our city center and Long Island Sound. Twelve submissions for redevelopment of Echo Bay. And millions for cleaning up Davids Island. All happening right now. What a thrill it will be on a day not-too-distant to stand on Main Street, look to the south, and see unobstructed for the first time in a century, the waves touching the shore.
Everywhere are the hallmarks of a rising community. From a new transit center to new hiking trails. From a fresh commitment to our parks to a greater focus on the arts.
For all of these reasons, I am today more optimistic about our city’s prospects than at any time during the past decade. And we can say with absolute certainty that the strategy we pursued together, sometimes in the face of doubt or controversy, that our strategy has worked.
But that doesn’t mean we don’t still face grave challenges. Let us not in our confidence deny the reality of hard work ahead. That happens too often in politics.
Our former City Manager, Peter Korn, sent me a joke a few months ago about political promises. I’ll give you the condensed version:
A US Senator passes away and, upon reaching the afterlife, is informed by the Almighty that he has the choice of spending eternity in either heaven or in hell. An angel appears to show him the sights in heaven, which seems to be a pleasant enough place, but a little dull with all the harps and floating clouds.
Then a well-dressed gentleman arrives to take the Senator on his tour of hell. Now, hell, it turns out, looks like a big country club. Golf courses, oak-paneled rooms. Even some old colleagues sharing jokes over drinks.
So the next morning the Senator makes his choice and votes for hell. And with that, the well-dressed man appears again to take the Senator to the underworld.
When he arrives, however, the Senator is greeted by a scene transformed. Pools of fire and brimstone stretch to the horizon. Ash chokes the air. Now shocked and frightened, he turns to the well-dressed gentleman, who begins to sprout horns and a tail, and asks, “What happened?” The demon places his arm gently over the Senator’s shoulder, and says simply: “Yesterday, Senator, we were still campaigning. As of this morning, we’ve been elected.”
You can never go wrong poking fun at politicians. And I suppose there are many examples of public figures painting rosy pictures one day, only to reveal unpleasant truths the next.
But, you know, I don’t think we’ve ever resorted to those kinds of games. Those of us who have worked side by side in difficult struggles related to our schools or our libraries, our city budget or tools to stimulate development — we have always respected the intelligence and judgment of citizens. We have never concealed the scope and scale of our challenges. Rather we have argued, fervently, that those challenges are worth facing, and that we possess the capacity to face them.
So I’ve told you what I think is going well, but when I look at our central business district or at our finances, when I think of our physical infrastructure and our social divisions, when I consider the burdens on those who own homes and the obstacles facing those who want homes but can’t afford them, I am not close to satisfied. I feel restless.
And I believe if we don’t seize this moment of possibility with both hands, our city will fall behind again. So more than celebrating the last ten years, I’m asking you to think about goals for the next ten. I’ll conclude by telling you some of mine.
Number One: To elevate the quality of our urban planning. Today, there are at least seven critical sites at various stages of renewal, all presenting complicated challenges. We must be sure that our staff has the depth and imagination to bring each to a successful conclusion. And when these are done, we should begin to think about development in different terms — less about vast projects and more about the smaller acts of rehabilitation that link new construction to old, and which are the best evidence of a growing economy. I want our downtown to live and breathe twenty-four hours a day, from end to end. To be respectful of its history. To be unique in its character and composition, not some pale copy of a strip mall that could be anywhere on Earth. And to be a source of pride to all of our citizens.
Number Two: To change our budget priorities. Too much of what we collect is consumed immediately by day to day operations, leaving very little for investments that make our city stronger and more livable over the long term. We should insist that a higher level, perhaps even a fixed percentage, of each annual budget is devoted to environmental enhancement, neighborhood improvement, infrastructure, and technology. These priorities offer today’s residents a more tangible return on their taxes, while building a healthier city for our children and grandchildren.
Number Three: To provide tax relief for homeowners. Economic development will help, but by itself, it’s not enough. In the context of fiscal home rule, we can and should reduce the mandatory fees that drive up tax bills. And then we should consider a regional revaluation to arrest the shift in the tax burden from the commercial to the residential sector that has seen homeowners taking it on the chin year after year. It’s wrong. It’s unfair. And we should bring it to an end.
And Number Four: Maybe most important, to bring our community together. In recent years, we’ve experienced too much division, too much anger. Some of it, let’s be honest, manufactured by those who see political value in public discontent. But some of it also results from the failures of those of us in government — a failure to listen and reach out, and involve every part of our changing community in decisions that affect the whole. As policy-makers setting standards for housing and investment, for representation and employment and education — and as citizens, volunteering time to tutor a child, or build a library, to teach English to a new resident, or provide care to a senior, let us act and speak with the knowledge that we are in this together, and that the blessings of our diversity outweigh by far its burdens.
That is the essential truth that lends moral urgency to our work. The world needs places like this, that are stages for common experience, where men and women of different shades and circumstances are not simply images on a television screen or glimpses through the window of a train. Where we are instead neighbors and friends and classmates, building a common future.
It has been such a joy for me to serve. In ten years, we’ve come a long way. We’ve got a long way still to go. And I will be proud beyond words to continue the journey with each of you.